National Hispanic Institute hosts Great Debate at AC

By: Maddie Garrett Email
By: Maddie Garrett Email

SHERMAN, TX – Over 300 excited and enthusiastic high school students from all over Texas arrived at Austin College Thursday afternoon. Most had painted faces and special tee-shirts, even signs and flags representing the nine cities they came from. So with all of the cheering and anticipation, it was hard to believe it was all for a speech and debate competition.

Austin College has hosted the National Hispanic Institute’s Great Debate for over 20 years. The competition brings together young Latino teens to learn and debate some of the biggest social and political issues facing our country today. NHI’s goal is help these high school students become community leaders as they move on to college and their careers.

"[We are] introducing them to their verbal skills, intellectual skills, their abilities to analyze things and their abilities to strategize, and to put forth ideas of relevance to the modern U.S. Latino community,” said Ernesto Nieto, President and founder of the NHI.

Most of the students are between 14 and 15 years old; freshman are the debaters and older students are their councilors. For Juan Antonia, a freshman from Brownsville, it's all about reaching his future goals.

"I'm interested in studying law so I thought it might be a good experience for me to join,” said Antonia.

For Nieto, this year's debate is more important than ever given the recent protests from Arizona laws targeting Hispanics and the violence on the Texas - Mexico border.

"What's really sad with what's going on, we don't do that here, we don't teach hatred, we don't teach separatism. We're Americans, we're here to support our nation,” he said.

It's those controversies Nieto and the NHI are working to change, student by student. And both the leaders and volunteers say the lessons learned and friendships made at the Great Debate last well beyond the competition, and on into a lifetime.

"They're enthusiastic about us being successful Latinos, I mean it makes me feel proud of who I am and what I can do,” said Antonia.

"These are the kinds of young people that I think are going to change the world,” said Nieto.

In all, nine cities from all over Texas are participating in this year’s Great Debate. Austin College sponsors the entire event, including housing, food and facilities. The debates start Friday morning and last until Saturday night. The winners will move on the national competition.

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  • by Participant of The Great Debate Location: Seguin on Dec 14, 2010 at 07:10 AM
    The Great Debate was not just for people of the Latino culture. Everyone from different countries, backgrounds, races, creeds, religions, and colors were there. The point of the Debate was so that we can learn from each other and learn about the Latino culture, which as someone said is the fastest growing population in the United States. I feel most people who commented on this were ignorant about this whole situation. I am black and a part of The National Hispanis Institute and proud!
  • by Participant on Aug 10, 2010 at 03:00 AM
    First off, the reason there is not a Caucasian Institute is because no one has yet to create one. We are Latinos. We are Americans. NHI allows us to learn more about our whole community and how we can grow as latinos and as an America altogether. It's not racist. There are Afrcian-Americans, Asians, and Caucasians in the program. But despite their race, they are living in a Majority-Latino Community, therefor that is their community. If i was a Latino in a Majority-White Community, it'd be all the same. We are learning about our culture, economy, politics and how we can become leaders in order to eventually create a stronger, more united community. America is based on all the different cultures and ethnicities. Like a melting pot. And we are the types of young individuals who are becoming leaders, leaders that will contribute to the change of America and the Latino Community, as a whole. If you disagree with our beliefs, please don't disrespect them calling us "racist."
  • by Anonymous on Jun 20, 2010 at 12:27 AM
    Honestly I must disagree with your wording, these students are not making their community "better", for that implies it is already bad to begin with, and must be made better. Where is the overlap between these two communities? Last I checked, the Latino population was more than 15% the total population in the United States, and is the fastest growing minority. Latinos have made an impact on American culture, and will continue to do that. They will make the "american community" better by making their Latino community better. The values, the beliefs, the ideas taught by this great program are not exclusive to the Latin Community. Values such as hard work, community, family, utilizing community equity building, looking at communities and seeing the good things, not the bad things, these are all good things that are good for every community. If one thinks Latinos are being "racist" or not trying to build up the "american community", I am sorry, but you are just ignorant.
  • by Anonymous on Jun 15, 2010 at 03:02 PM
    why are they making the "latino community" better and not the "american community"? i'm just curious....
  • by Anonymous on Jun 15, 2010 at 03:01 PM
    ivy league school credits don't carry any weight with my kind.
  • by Nancy Location: houston on Jun 15, 2010 at 11:36 AM
    FYI Mightylargecalopyters The debate is in English. These students are high achievers who are in the top ten percent of their class. Only a few are selected for this program. They don't debate on national issues; it is not about hate. All these kids get accepted to the best Colleges in the country including Ivy League Schools. These kids were born and raised in the USA and speak English as well as their parents who were also born in this country and went to college. So please don't hate and do your homework before you give insults to kids who want to make something of themselves. I am proud to say my child is one of them.
  • by Bill Location: Southmayd on Jun 15, 2010 at 11:02 AM
    Ok Maddie,i see that you didnt feel obliged to print two of my comments(on two different stories) but you printed everyone else's,i will just call you a selective news reader, and i will do the same, and not read your stories,evidently you have a different view than i do and are exercising your right of power.
  • by Nobodyimportant Location: Ardmore on Jun 14, 2010 at 08:34 PM
    This is terrific. No matter how daunting it may seem or how much resistance presents itself, no matter how vile the language thrown in your way or how unpleasant the path becomes, please continue your efforts to make this a better world. Keep your minds sharp, your language clear, your thoughts focused and, above all, set the bar higher than those who came before you. Remember, we must admit the full extent of our ignorance and the furthest limits of our incompetence before we can expand the frontiers of knowledge. May your quest father success and, one day, by virtue of your efforts, may we truly be "e pluribus unum."
  • by Tired of Idiots on Jun 14, 2010 at 06:28 PM
    Mr. Duke, you just don't grasp it do you? Read the story, and some of the comments from the intelligent students who participated in the debate. Furthermore, the RACE of Hispanics is CAUCASIAN....(uh ...WHITE for all the idiots ) Hispanic is ETHNIC...such as Polish, Irish, Italian....!
  • by Mr. David Duke Location: Hanging Head in Shame on Jun 14, 2010 at 02:31 PM
    Well folks. Didn't realize this was open to other nationalities. Ignorance is bliss and I just got the smile wiped off of my face! PS-racism in ALL it's forms is wrong. Can't we all just get along?
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